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Congratulations! You may now shave the bride

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be nice to tell a heartwarming story about a fairy-tale wedding where the bride and groom meet, fall in love, say their vows and live happily ever after. The kind of wedding Disney wants you to believe happens all the time. Unfortunately, though, as life isn’t a Disney movie, you will get no such heartwarming story.

Instead, you will get the story of a young Arab couple — let’s call them Abdul and Fatima — whose own marriage fell just short of the Disney standard. There are a few Disney elements to the tale, to be sure, including a scheming mother of the bride, lavish gifts from the groom to his intended, and a grand wedding, but the part about living happily ever after … well, you’ll see what I mean.

I’m not sure how, exactly, the courtship of Abdul and Fatima began. In fact, I’ve always wondered how men and women meet in Arab society, given that relations between the sexes outside of marriage is against Saudi Arabian law. It seems to me that if a woman so much as smiles at a man in, say, Riyadh, she will immediately be beaten to death, and if a man tries to flirt with a woman he will be arrested, as 57 young men were during a Valentine’s Day purge in Mecca in 2008.

In any event, though, somehow Abdul made the acquaintance of Fatima’s mother, and since Abdul was an Arab country’s ambassador to Dubai, the mother decided he would make a wonderful husband for Fatima. The older woman showed Abdul pictures of her daughter and convinced the young man to give her a chance. I’m assuming this all took place in secret, as the mother wasn’t beaten to death for talking to a man who wasn’t her husband, and Abdul didn’t have his eyes gouged out for looking at pictures of a girl.

A meeting was arranged, and Fatima showed up looking positively radiant in a black burqa that covered her from head to toe and a niqab, or Islamic veil, that completely obscured her face, save for, I’m assuming, one of her eyes. (Most niqabs have a thin slit that allows women to see with both eyes, but the facts of this story lead me to believe Fatima’s was of the one-eyed variety favored by some Muslim clerics who think the two-eyed variety encourage women to use eye make-up to look seductive.)

Anyway, Abdul was apparently smitten by Fatima’s one eye, because he began wooing the young lady in earnest, spending, by his count, roughly $130,000 on gifts to win her over. The young couple met a few more times, with Fatima staying true to the role of virtuous Muslim girl by wearing her niqab on each occasion, and eventually it was decided that they would get married.

The wedding was a grand affair, at least in my imagination. To be honest, the story I read said nothing about the wedding, but it’ll be more fun if we assume it was a grand affair, so let’s. The crowd filed in, with the men sitting on one side and the women sitting, presumably, outside. The bride came down the aisle. Abdul and Fatima exchanged their vows, and the imam pronounced them husband and indentured servant with no rights of her own. Excuse me. I mean wife.

Then came that magic “you may kiss the bride” moment where Abdul would finally be able to gaze on the face of his beloved. He looked adoringly into her one visible eye, lifted her niqab and leaned in for the kiss … only to discover that Fatima was cross-eyed and had facial hair.

This was not the girl from the pictures Fatima’s mother had shown him. It seems the old lady had tricked Abdul into marrying her unattractive daughter by showing him photographs of Fatima’s much prettier sister.

Thankfully, this being male-friendly Arab society, Abdul was able to get the marriage annulled, although the court rejected his claim that Fatima owed him $130,000 for the gifts he lavished upon her during their courtship. No word on whether Fatima’s mother was stoned to death for her deception.

Here’s the part that I don’t understand, though: It’s Arabia, meaning Fatima is just going to spend the rest of her life covered in a black burqa with a niqab over her face anyway. What difference does it make what she looks like?

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Todd Hartley

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02 2010

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